What started as a hobby for islander Stephanie Kearney, quickly blossomed into a business. Photos by Tyler Holloway, The D Profile
Folks are buzzing about the all-natural, locally made products from Island Girls Honey Co. What started as a hobby for Grosse Ile resident Stephanie Kearney, blossomed into a business which earned her first place in Monroe County Fair’s honey tasting contest last year.
“I have been a beekeeper for about six years; actually, this is my seventh summer,” says Stephanie, who takes the time to harvest from her hives every two weeks during the summer, in addition to being a Certified Wound Ostomy and Continence Nurse at Karmanos.
Stephanie says she had always been interested in beekeeping and was finally able to pursue it when she moved to Grosse Ile in 2005. “I just started it as a hobby to be an apiarist. To learn how to keep bees and it kind of grew from there.”
Of course, award-winning honey didn’t come overnight. “I started out with one hive, and that year they died. And the next year I had two hives, and those hives died,” says Stephanie, who’s still remorseful at the loss of those initial bees. “And then the next year I joined the Monroe Beekeepers Club and I just started reading everything I could about [beekeeping].” Although Stephanie did initial research before getting her first hive, it wasn’t until she learned new methods to keep her bees healthy, such as winterizing them properly, and most importantly, protecting them from a prevalent mite problem, that she had success. Now with 13 thriving hives, Stephanie can share her amazing honey.
Island Girls Honey is sold at Westcroft Gardens and the Grosse Ile Gardens of Hope. “I have a Facebook page and [customers] can send me a message on Facebook, but I usually sell out and I’ve actually sold honey that I don’t even have yet,” says Stephanie. “I have friends and family that used to buy pints, and now they buy gallons.”
Stephanie chose the name Island Girls “‘Cause we live on an island and all the worker bees are girls!”
Beekeeping is also a lot of work. “It will probably take me about four hours to inspect the hives and take the honey out of them. [I] go frame by frame and make sure that the bees have capped the honey… and we just take those out one by one and take them back to my house. And then it takes about another four hours to get the honey off the frame.”
Stephanie doesn’t work completely alone though. “I have one man who helps me… he just started learning about bees,” she says. “I kind of recruited him, he retired a few years ago from [General Motors] and he’s a family friend. He built a lot of my equipment and helps like a set of extra hands.”
Island Girls Honey’s label was designed by Stephanie’s son, who was inspired by Calvin and Hobbes comics. She chose the name Island Girls “‘Cause all the worker bees are girls and we live on an island.” Stephanie’s love of the Caribbean also influenced the name choice. She even painted her hives to mimic those bright tropical colors.
Stephanie makes it clear that selling honey was just an outcome of beekeeping. As a nurse for over 20 years, she’s passionate about health and living green. Beekeeping is just a natural extension of those interests because it’s good for the environment and has a positive effect on the declining bee population.
Stephanie gives all the credit for tasty honey to her Island Girls. “Nothing that I do [is the secret to award-winning honey], it’s the pollen and nectar in the plants that grow [in the area].” She will defend her title this year at the Monroe County Fair.
For anyone considering acquiring an apiary of their own, Stephanie says “Read everything you can before you start, join a Facebook group, get a mentor, join a bee club! That’s your best bet. And shadow somebody for an entire weekend before you actually get a beehive.” There are also opportunities to attend conferences throughout the year, which are sponsored by the Michigan Beekeepers Association and the Southeast Michigan Beekeepers Association.
Plans for the future of Island Girls Honey Co. may include teaching beekeeping classes, a “be a beekeeper for the day” experience, and observation areas for students to see the hives without getting stung.